Through Iris’ eyes
Her eyes were almond shaped, under thick curly ebony hair. She was smiling to the sun, beyond the agitation in the room. They had been invited to a birthday party. She did not seem to recall whose birthday party it was. She would surely remember…
From where she was seated, she could only see but a tiny part of the powerful star through the thick curtains of the living room. Still, some rays of sunshine were shining obstinately through the thick material and formed a myriad of dancing; swirling little rainbows which were playing hide and seek behind the folds of the pastel coloured material. All this in a blur of dazzling hues… Iris was now wholly possessed by this inexplicable yearning – if only she could leap outside through the window and sail towards the huge red flaming ball. She could see herself, light and immaterial, floating over the whispering trees, the steep mountains crowned with snow, the towering cliffs and the vast endless ocean…
And then this sudden breath-taking fall! This cold insisting hand against her skin:
“Come on, stop that useless daydreaming Anita! My poor child, when will you start behaving!
“She has just failed half of her grades for her final year at primary school; she does not even know how to write a proper sentence…what a shame! We have never come across such failures in the family…
“How old is she? I thought she was much older. In fact, I thought she was at least 15.“
She wanted to scream, and this name “Anita” with which they tagged her, this name which she had not chosen and which continuously prevented her from being herself, Iris. If only she could free herself, open her mouth and scream:
“I am Iris…I am old enough to feel pain, to be angry, to distrust you, old enough to be disillusioned… old enough to be aware of this soft and long body which does not belong to me anymore. This body which, like my name, is others’ toy possession. This body which you shamelessly touch, envy, desire, comment. I am old enough to be lonely, to know how lonely I am, old enough to know how so desperately alienated I feel in this indifferent world…”
Anita remained silent. Her words were too precious to be spent so carelessly. But her smile vanished from her face. While a few minutes ago she seemed illuminated by a secret light, she just went out like a candle in the wind. Her stepmother was nodding her head disapprovingly, and trying her best to look concerned by her young teenage stepdaughter.
The other speaker – a distant male relative of Anita’s father, in his 40s, was looking intently at this young, budding woman, lost in her thoughts, and who was sinking even more deeply in the sofa at the very corner of the room now that they were talking to her. His gaze overtly lingered on her youthful body. He did not even try to be discreet or to conceal his growing desire. Everyone seemed so taken up by the party and he felt this familiar, pleasant warmth sweeping over his tensed body.
Anita did not move. She felt cold, frozen like a statue, utterly paralysed. She had recognised this lustful look in her distant cousin’s eyes. She had already been the prey of such insisting gazes, stripping her bare, and triggering inside her a flow of conflicting emotions. She also knew how in secret her stepmother delighted in her failing school results.
Anita closed her eyes and wished with all her heart that they would disappear forever from her life-but as it was always the case with life, they remained, looking at her, gauging her, judging her…
And the sun was winking at her through the curtains. At last, they moved out of her way towards the dining table where all the guests were crowded over the food and drinks. Iris was safe, at least for some time. She edged away from the stuffy dark room into the garden. In spite of the heat, she felt lighter, relieved outside in the open air. She took some long, deep breaths. The sun, emperor of the skies, was shining gloriously. She felt his vibrations, the recognisable soft burning sensation on her skin.
“The sun is a very hot gaseous body composed of almost 75% hydrogen…”
The useless, senseless words resonated at the back of her mind, monochord sounds which belonged to the classroom, empty words which, between four bare walls, carved, decided meanings. The sun had no need of definitions…even the universe could do without. Iris had this feeling that there would be as many interpretations as there would be people on the surface of the earth. She was now staring at the sun’s rays emanating from her noble friend; his generosity was without bounds.
The golden light was glowing everywhere in the garden, endlessly infiltrating the landscape in front of her. From the mango leaves, down the low stone wall, the watering pipe, the Geranium flower beds, the unruly grass on each side of the earth beaten alley, the steps which brought you up to the front door, through the house, through the doors, windows, skylights, and the cracks…Iris was bewitched by the omnipresence of the Sun king.
“Anita! Anita! Come with me, they have two more rabbits in the backyard!”
Iris turned to the little familiar voice calling her. It was her half-brother, Ashley, a little man of eight years old with twinkling, laughing eyes. Did she love him? She could not tell. She was there when he was born; she had witnessed his growing up. She did not want to harm him. Did this mean she loved him?
They quickly went round the house. The backyard was packed with thrown away heteroclites objects, and there, on a hump of rocks, two white rabbits with red eyes were staring at them in a cage crudely made up of wires and pieces of wood. Ashley marvelled at those soft furred white creatures with long ears. He was now teasing them with a stick through the bars. He soon grew tired of this game and off he was gone looking for another game, oblivious of his older sister’s pensive mood.
It was dark and moist. Despite its implacable rays, the sun could not pierce through the huge canopy of foliage of the old mango trees whose trunks were covered with moss. The ground was humid, strewn with mango leaves, and mildew was gradually extending its territory. This summer afternoon, a strong smell of fermentation was floating and spreading into the hot air. Iris shivered in spite of the heat. It was a derelict, desolate, chaotic, abandoned place. She wanted to move away, but somehow she was immobilised, caught up in a morose reverie.
Suddenly, a burst of laughter awakened her. It was a woman’s laugh which came from the old shed. The incongruity of this laugh amidst this heap of old scrap, pieces of wood, torn books, and dirty cloth aroused her curiosity. She stepped closer near the shed, and though it was dark, she recognised the familiar silhouette which was moving rhythmically behind the logs…but wasn’t this a stranger?
She did not mind the dishevelled, confused young woman. But the other shadowy figure, whom she thought she knew…the respected man in his community, the cultured man who held a high level post in government, the widower, father of three… Could this be love? Could one love this way, like her father in this dark hole, in this disused shed, in this inhospitable backyard, with muffled laughter? Iris looked away from the shed; a feeling of repulsion inhabited her now.
All of a sudden, she felt no ties whatsoever with this agitated shape, twitching to and fro in the dark. Yet, it was not a long time ago; he was like a God, deciding majestically of the moods, the happiness, of the fate of his family. Iris remembered her mother, the languishing woman with tired eyes, who vanished unnoticed, one pale morning at dawn. In those days, Iris still believed in the permanence of beings. Yet, her mother was no longer part of this world and Iris was still here…
Iris was now contemplating the back facade of the house, blocks and cement, cold and rigid matter, smooth but hard…impenetrable. Iris stared fixedly at the steep walls without blinking, and felt as if, effortlessly, she was crossing the walls. She was now in the kitchen, it was party time.
The brown, wrinkled hands of Manee were actively kneading the dough for the preparation of the faratas. It was magical! The hands of an enchanted being tirelessly working the dough, kneading it, gently rolling it between the agile fingers, folding it, and placing it lovingly on the pan to cook. The faratas were piling up nimbly and readily in the pot. The curry was simmering on the fire and the spicy scent of garlic, masala and coriander was flowing into the heated room. The graceful figure of Ati’s daughter twirled happily in the kitchen, as she looked for the spices and condiments – her shimmering sari projecting rainbow arabesques upon the walls. The kitchen was under a spell, and was transformed into a secret, forbidden sanctum.
The two women, dancing godlike figures – the old wrinkled mother with her grey bun, the young copper goddess with her interminable black plait-superimposed, merged momentarily and unfolded into an immense picturesque fan. The kitchen was now full of colours, incense and exotic scents. It was one of those sacred moments where a few seconds filled you with a sense of eternity.
Slam! The kitchen door opened, breaking the spell.
“Anita! What are you doing here? We have been looking for you; we have already taken the family pictures. Go and join the others in the living room.”
In the living room, near the window, again Iris felt very lonely. Everywhere, the guests were filling the dim-lighted, noisy room – walking aimlessly with glasses in their hands, stuffing themselves with starters, staggering dazed like towards the bar, sinking in their chairs in disarray –the more enthusiastic shaking their bodies on the dancing floor, the young men and women, restless, and fidgeting in the darker corners – the children inventing prohibited games. Amidst this confusion, Iris caught sight of her father. But, was this the same person she had surprised a couple of hours ago in this deserted dreary shed? He seemed quite decent now except for his marauding eyes.
Voices circulated across the room, convincing voices, entreating voices, angry voices, seductive voices – all of them not listening but talking, explaining, and proving. All strongly defending their point of views and what they firmly believed. They were all right. Every single one of them. They were like bizarre, gilded, agitated creatures with unintelligible sounds coming out of their mouths. Did we have to behave like that? Did we have to interact in such a useless, absurd manner?
Iris was starting to feel very hot; she could feel sweat trickling down her back. She then felt that someone was looking at her. It was Grandma Nanny. They had placed the old lady in an armchair in the quieter part of the room. She had not moved out of her chair for decades now. In fact, as long as she remembered, Iris had only known her seated still in a chair. Only Grandma Nanny’s eyes moved. They shone and blinked continuously. Despite her immobility, she seemed more alive than all the other guests in the living room. Indeed, Grandma Nanny was the armchair’s prisoner but her thoughts were free, and floated, untouched, unattainable throughout the room. At once, Iris felt comforted. Grandma Nanny’s eyes acted like a healing balm. The old lady had had a very tough life. On many occasions, as a child, Iris had overheard conversations, stories recapturing episodes of her long life. Iris also recalled at times the embarrassment of the speakers when they spoke of their old relative.
One by one, Iris had assembled pieces of the big puzzle, collecting timid, sometimes reticent confidences. She had then been able to reconstruct a more or less accurate picture of the fascinating itinerary of the onyx-eyed old statue, which was staring at her from the other corner of the room.
Quickly a widow, Grandma Nanny had worked very hard to bring up her numerous offspring. As she looked back at the delicate old woman, huddled in the big armchair, Iris saw the proud, high-spirited young woman who would get up every day at four o’clock in the dark to buy vegetables from the adjoining gardens and sell them door to door to individual families. She would leave her youngest children under the responsibility of the oldest, and move swiftly outside into the obscurity, her arms loaded with baskets of fresh vegetables to sell. Iris saw the young woman clearly now as she disappeared in the morning mist, and followed the meandering footpath bordered by the sugarcane fields. Grandma Nanny’s eyes were twinkling now; she had a grateful and thoughtful smile.
Suddenly, Iris became aware of a faraway rumbling noise in the distant, a growing rumour outside the house. It was the rain, wild and unrestrained, galloping and thudding powerfully over their heads. The crepitating of the rain on the wooden roof echoed the drumming on the shutters, and the clamour in the garden. Iris closed her eyes. She was listening to the magnificent symphony around her. It was grandiose. They were playing with passion and fervour.
She looked through the window; a grey, oblique curtain of rain was beating the ground forcefully, relentlessly. It was just a matter of seconds; streams of water were trickling down the trees, little rivulets flowed out of the cracked fence. The garden welcomed this abrupt showering. It seemed to refresh, to become greener, and to renew as rainwater poured generously onto it. The trees were crying with joy. The thick red soil was soaked with water; a series of puddles had surfaced, in unison, out of the drowned grass. The entire garden was now glittering with shades of silver and green. The downpour stopped unexpectedly as it had come, without notice.
Iris became mindful of a stir on her left. All the guests were gathering near the middle table in the dining room. A hazy light surrounded the partygoers under the ochre coloured antique lamp. Outside, the air was pure. Though the sun was setting, the landscape was illuminated – an amazing palette of colours-vermillion, orange, blue and indigo. The child could not believe her eyes. It was a miracle. The night was falling and the sun, adorned with an astounding spectrum of colours, was retreating. Behind the golden clouds, the last rays dwelled, radiating persistently. A feeling of urgency swept over Iris. She now saw that she was growing like a gigantic plant. She could not stay inside any longer. She had to get out. The front door slammed loudly behind her, but Iris was oblivious.
Outside, the clouds were dispersing, but the sun was still glowing. Iris raised her arms towards the sky. The sunrays brushed her arms lightly before departing…
Someone behind her was shouting: “Anita! What’s on your mind? Have you forgotten your manners?”
The child turned round, facing her father and as she looked at him in the eyes, she said:
“Iris! I am Iris! Iris!”
He shrugged his shoulders, but he could not bear her gaze. He had the distasteful feeling that, from now on, he would no longer be able to look at her straight in the eye….
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